In the wake of recent off-shore oil spills, and with the growing popularity of “fracking” — in which water is used to release oil and gas from shale — there’s a need for easy, quick ways to separate oil and water. Now, scientists have developed coatings that can do just that. Their report on the materials, which also could stop surfaces from getting foggy and dirty, appears in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces. A new coating that easily separates oil from water could make oil cleanup faster. Credit: American Chemical Society J.P.S. Badyal and colleagues point out that oil-spill cleanup crews often use absorbents, like clays, straw and wool to sop up oil, but these materials aren’t very efficient because they also sop up a lot of water. Extra steps and equipment also are needed to remove the oil from the absorbent, which is difficult to do on a ship. Recently, researchers have turned their attention to new smart materials called “oleophobic-hydrophilic” coatings that instead let the water through and repel the oil. However, the films that have been reported so far take several minutes to do the separation, are complicated to make or aren’t very good at repelling oil.
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